Climate change should be the subject of a robust national dialogue about the best strategies for solutions, write William Ruckelshaus and K.C. Golden. Politics should stop at reality's edge.
THERE’S plenty of room for philosophical and political debate about climate change. How should we respond? What are the right roles for business, government, and local communities? How can we deliver effective, fair solutions in tough economic times?
Climate change should be the subject of a robust dialogue about the best strategies for solutions. But the existence and urgency of human-caused climate change is no longer a legitimate subject of disagreement. Politics should stop at reality’s edge.
We know — beyond any reasonable doubt — that we have a serious problem on our hands. We know how human activities contribute to it, and we know a great deal about how to respond — more than enough to act. While national and international leaders have struggled to come to grips with the problem, our states, businesses and communities are rolling up their sleeves to pioneer solutions.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson visits Seattle Friday and Saturday. She has demonstrated that responsible regulation can drive innovation, improve environmental performance and strengthen the economy.
Jackson has been moving forward with climate solutions at the federal level under the authorities granted by our nation’s landmark environmental laws, like the Clean Air Act. New fuel-economy standards represent a major step forward toward emission reduction and greater energy and economic security. The agency has proposed new performance standards that would limit carbon pollution in the power sector. They should be thoughtfully implemented.
We invite a great deal more of the kind of federal leadership Jackson represents. As a nation, we can and must do more to accelerate climate solutions. Our economic competitors are gaining ground in the clean-energy race, and we are all losing ground in the race against dangerous climate change. It’s a race that humanity can’t afford to run with America arguing on the sidelines, debating reality itself.
We know from local experience that solutions are possible and economically attractive. Here in the Northwest states, three decades of investment in energy efficiency are delivering impressive results: We’re harvesting enough energy savings to power more than four cities the size of Seattle. Those efficiency upgrades are saving us more than $2 billion a year on our energy bills. We’re squeezing more work out of our existing hydropower, and adding new renewables like wind, solar and geothermal power. Renewable energy isn’t “alternative” in the Northwest — it’s the backbone of our power system, and the reason why we enjoy some of the cleanest and most affordable electricity in the nation.
The region’s growing clean-energy economy isn’t just about energy efficiency and renewable-energy companies. It’s Boeing gaining a competitive edge by marketing the world’s most efficient commercial aircraft while developing sustainable fuels for aviation. It’s Microsoft cutting its own carbon footprint and developing information solutions that reduce the need for petroleum in travel. It’s communities working together to develop more sustainable land-use practices and to restore healthy watersheds.
While we’re pushing ahead with local solutions, we’re also working to respond to the effects of climate change and carbon accumulations in our atmosphere and ocean. Some climate changes are already upon us. Washington’s new Ocean Acidification Panel is exploring ways to protect our vital marine ecosystems as ocean acidity increases.
These initiatives show that solutions and effective responses are practical and economically feasible. They are doing more than reducing our carbon footprint; they’re helping us build stronger economies and healthier, more resilient communities.
Local leadership is the cutting edge of climate solutions. But as promising as this work is, it is not enough; it will never scale to the climate challenge. We need a better partnership — and stronger policy — from our federal government.
William D. Ruckelshaus, left, was the first and fifth administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. K.C. Golden is policy director for Climate Solutions, a Northwest clean-economy nonprofit.